Britain will lead the fightback against antibiotic-resistant superbugs threatening to send medicine back into the dark ages. The Prime Minister, David Cameron said resistance to antibiotics was a very real and worrying threat and could lead to a future in which currently treatable injuries and ailments could prove fatal. As part of the effort to address the issue an international group of experts will aim to stimulate the development of a new generation of antibiotics, The Times reported.
Treatable infections and injuries could end up killing once again if steps are not taken to respond to the real threat of drug-resistant bacteria.
“This is not some distant threat but something happening right now,” Mr. Cameron told the newspaper. “If we fail we are looking at an almost unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back into the dark ages of medicine where treatable infections and injuries will kill once again. That simply cannot be allowed to happen and I want to see a stronger, more coherent global response.”
The Prime Minister vowed that the UK will lead the global fightback to stop routine operations and scratches from becoming fatal. Cameron said he had discussed the issue at a G7 summit of leaders in Brussels last month and had won specific support for the initiative from U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
He told the Times: “I’ve been listening to the scientific advice that I get, and the network of advisers we have are all saying this is one of the most serious health problems the world faces. For many of us, we only know a world where infections or sicknesses can be quickly remedied by a visit to the doctor and a course of antibiotics. This great British discovery has kept our families safe for decades, while saving billions of lives around the world. But that protection is at risk as never before. Resistance to antibiotics is now a very real and worrying threat.”
Former Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill will lead the international expert group and has been asked to consider how governments would pay pharmaceutical companies to produce drugs even if they were rarely used.
The group will also consider how poorer countries can be encouraged to improve control of existing antibiotics.
The O’Neill Commission will be hosted and funded by the Wellcome Trust charity, which is contributing 500,000 pounds ($850,000) to the project.
Drug resistance is driven by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics which encourages bacteria to develop new ways of overcoming them.
Resistance has been a feature of medicine since Alexander Fleming’s discovery of the first antibiotic, penicillin, in Britain in 1928. But the problem has become worse in recent years as multi-drug resistant bugs have developed and drug companies have reduced investment in an unprofitable field.
Unlike big sellers such as statins for lowering cholesterol, antibiotics are used for only short periods and doctors also tend to keep the newest and most potent ones in reserve.
Prices for antibiotics are also low, reflecting the availability of many cheap generic versions, in contrast to treatments for other diseases such as cancer.
Only a handful of new antibiotics have been developed and brought to market in the past few decades, and it is a race against time to find more as bacterial infections increasingly evolve into superbugs resistant to even the most powerful last resort medicines reserved for extreme cases.
One of the best known superbugs, MRSA, is alone responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the United States and Europe, as well as untold numbers in poorer countries.
Cameron’s decision to set up the O’Neill Commission follows a call by scientists in May for an independent body on antimicrobial resistance, modeled on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Only a handful of pharmaceutical firms with large antibiotic R&D programs remain, compared with nearly 20 in 1990, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA).
We are failing to contain the rise of resistance, and failing to develop new drugs to replace those that no longer work. We are heading for a post-antibiotic age.
This is not just a scientific and medical challenge but an economic and social one too.